(2008) dir. Marc Forster
viewed: 11/18/08 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
After “rebooting” (as they call it nowadays) the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale (2006) with British hunk Daniel Craig as the fittest Bond ever, and with a coherent, engaging film, this lame follow-up seems even more of a squandering than it would have before the last film. I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews of this film saying all kinds of different criticisms, many contradicting one another on what went wrong here. I can tell you. It’s chaos.
From the opening sequence, a car chase through a tunnel on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea (great location), the film flashes cut cut cut cut cut like a conniption fit rather than an action sequence. I dare you to have actually followed every specific bing-bang-boom that goes on. It goes by so fast that your mind can’t capture it, can’t make sense of all the crashing and shooting and explosions. But it’s not just the action sequences that are cut up this way, the whole film rarely allows a shot to last more than a second or two, even in scenes that are primarily dialogue between two characters. It’s hyperactive. It’s mind-numbing.
Director Marc Forster, whose reputation has been built on a lot of films that I have never seen (Monster’s Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), and Stranger Than Fiction (2006)), bears a lot of the responsibility for the unintelligible mess. If I was involved in the stunts and the production of the action sequences, I would want his head on a pole. It looks like they did some cool action stunts, but you can barely keep up with each flash of a moment in the editing. I couldn’t often tell if Bond was shooting or the guy was shooting at him in one chase scene. It was aggrevating. I found myself counting out the seconds between each cut in the non-action sequences and rarely reaching six before “rebooting”.
Craig still casts a compelling figure. And most of the way along the film, some of the overall story moves along. In the end, the film achieves a place of averageness.
It left me yearning for something like Le Cercle rouge (1970) which featured these long, silent sequences drawing out a bank heist, or some more lingering long takes, allowing the actors to act and the action sequences to make sense. All the chaotic editing doesn’t intensify the experience of the action, it just confuses it.
I remember in an early film class a teacher showed us two films of the dancer Josephine Baker to show how editing can be less effective than a long take. In one, just a long, unedited take of Baker’s crazy physicality bending and whipping around like nothing you’ve ever seen, the impressiveness of her, her being, her actuality and physicality. The other, edited, shot from one angle then the next, with close-ups and everything, completely lost the sense of what she was actually doing, the wonder of her performance became muddled in the mix. At least it wasn’t edited like a hyperactive trigger-finger.
There is not a quantum of solace to be had. Which is too bad because Daniel Craig is most definitely “the man” and Judi Dench is good too.